Explicit Phonics in 3 Easy Steps

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“There is no comprehension strategy powerful enough to compensate if a student cannot read the words.”

Anita Archer

This is perhaps my favorite teaching quote. Yes, we all want our students to read and to be able to comprehend text. But we are misguided if we use the end goal of reading (comprehension) as the tool to teach reading. Instead, the science of reading tells us that we must teach foundational reading skills such as explicit phonics to set our students up for overall reading success.

I hear from many educators that shifting to teaching phonics with this approach can be daunting. How do we make it engaging? In what order do we teach skills? How do I reach the needs of all my students? By adopting a systematic and explicit phonics approach, you can empower your students to become confident readers who unravel the mysteries of written language. Let’s dive in!

Understanding the Explicit and Systematic Approach:

The explicit and systematic approach to teaching phonics is founded on the idea that reading and spelling skills are best acquired when explicitly taught in a structured and logical sequence. This method breaks down the complexities of language into manageable parts, ensuring students grasp foundational skills before moving on to more advanced concepts

Preparing for Instruction

Before any direct instruction can begin, assess your students. Those results will be your guide as to which phonics skills need to be explicitly taught and which ones are solid. Then, before diving into a new spelling rule or phonics concept, ensure that students have a solid foundation in basic phonemic awareness skills, including sound blending, segmenting, and manipulating sounds within words. This will help them better grasp the concept of phonics.

Step 1: Explicitly Teach the New Phonics Skill

Using the -ck spelling rule as an example, begin by introducing it with engaging visuals and written examples. Display a written example or poster illustrating the -ck spelling pattern and explain its purpose: use -ck to spell /k/ directly after a short vowel. Engage students in their learning by connecting the new information to prior learning (For example: review the sounds represented by the graphemes c and k).

ck spelling rule poster for phonics

Provide explicit instruction on how the -ck spelling rule works. Explain that when a short vowel sound is followed by a consonant sound of /k/ at the end of a syllable, the consonant sound is represented by the spelling “ck.” Model and emphasize this pattern in various examples, allowing students to hear and identify the /k/ sound and the “ck” spelling pattern.

Step 2: Engage in Guided Word Exploration

Engage students in meaningful word exploration activities that reinforce the -ck spelling rule. This is your chance to provide a scaffolded approach to their application of the new skill. With the new phonics pattern, you can ask students to:

  • Highlight words or graphemes
  • Say and trace the new grapheme
  • Read words and/or sentences
  • Spell words and/or sentences
  • Count the sounds in words
  • Comprehend text
  • Weave in vocabulary with the related phonics skill
  • AND MORE!
Partner Work with Explicit Phonics

Partner work is another excellent step towards independence with the new phonics skill. Having students pair up to read, spell, and sort words gives them practice with an extra layer of support. You can provide a list of words that follow the pattern, and encourage students to identify the words, read them aloud, and sort them based on their spelling pattern. Incorporate multisensory techniques, such as using letter tiles, magnetic letters, or writing the words in sand or shaving cream. And a special note to teachers: This guided work time should not be silent. We want students to hear the sounds in the words they read. This auditory input paired with the visual cue of seeing the words and the kinesthetic act of sorting words brings a much-needed multisensory approach!

Step 3: Apply and Practice

When ready, give students ample opportunities to apply and practice the -ck spelling pattern independently. Provide word lists that include words with the -ck pattern, and encourage students to write sentences or short paragraphs using these words. Utilize word-building activities, interactive games, and decodable texts to reinforce their understanding and mastery of the -ck spelling pattern. Choosing activities that are multisensory and require application of the skill can greatly improve your students’ engagement.

Assessment to Guide Instruction

True assessments are not meant to put a student on a level or even to give them a grade. We should use assessment data to drive our instruction. Review and assess students’ progress to identify any areas that require additional support. Provide prompt error repair and feedback. Conduct formative assessments, such as dictation exercises or word recognition tasks, to gauge their ability to apply the rule accurately and independently. Analyze your students’ writing to see their application of the spelling skill.

Teaching phonics explicitly and systematically empowers students to become confident readers and writers. By employing this approach educators can effectively guide students in mastering the relationship between sounds and letters. Remember, consistent practice, engaging activities, and frequent reinforcement will help solidify students’ understanding of the structure of our language paving the way for their future reading success.

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